10 Visual Artists Who Use Books as Their Medium

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Even as our lives become ever more digitalized, the beauty of the printed page continues to hold sway. Take Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent literary dissection of Bruno Schultz’s novel The Street of Crocodiles, which he painstakingly pruned in order to create an entirely new story. Although the concept was more literary experiment than arts and crafts hack-job, the resulting book is a visually stunning reinvention of its preexisting form. To illustrate the multimedia value of this alternative usage, here are ten artists who have transformed traditional texts into works of genuine art.

Robert The

Collecting discarded books from thrift store bins and even dumpsters, Robert The creates objects of art that comment upon their own meaning and irrelevance. In his artist statement, The explains that these tossed aside books “are lovingly vandalized back to life so they can assert themselves against the culture which turned them into debris.”

Thomas Allen

Combining the imagery of pulp fiction cover art and the fun of pop-up books, Thomas Allen creates three-dimensional action scenes by cutting out and combining vintage cover images then using the remaining pages and spines to act as the stage for his new creations.

Cara Barer

Cara Barer’s photographs of splayed out, crumpled, and folded book pages reinvent the object as an abstract and infinitely varied form. Showing that a book’s appearance can be as diverse as its content, these images capture both the intimacy and vulnerability of the printed page.

Brian Dettmer

Brian Dettmer takes materials whose original function has faded — most famously books, but also maps, tapes, and other media — to recontextualize new or overlooked meanings within the object itself. Using surgical tools such as knives and tweezers, Dettmer carves each volume into a sculpture that is both visually arresting and substantively compelling.

Mike Stilkey

In the absence of a standard blank canvas, Mike Stilkey paints his dark yet cartoonishly charming works on towers of stacked books. Taking advantage of the shapes and covers of each recycled cover and spine, his sculptures and large-scale installations are defined both by their painted imagery and the material on which they’re based.

Guy Laramée

Guy Laramée’s sculptures represent the inverted relationship between the accumulation of knowledge and the corrosion of the environment. His carved stacks of books reflect topographical formations, landmarks, mountain ranges, and canyon ruts, mirroring the Earth’s landscape in both physical and psychological terms, while “trying to see the living nature of inanimate objects,” he says.

Jeremy May

Jeremy May’s one-of-a-kind jewelry is actually made out of old books. Through a careful production process, he laminates hundreds of sheets of paper and turns them into the desired shape before finishing each item off with a high gloss veneer. The resulting trinkets are wearable pieces of art, symbols of condensed history and exclusive design.

Su Blackwell

Crafting intricate scenes with only a few carefully cut and folded book pages, Su Blackwell converts laid off texts into the material for new storytelling styles. Her hyper-detailed designs range from text-tattooed figures that stand up off the page to paper butterflies flying out of an open cover to story-specific scenes that reflect the events of the original book’s contents.

Jacqueline Rush Lee

Jacqueline Rush Lee’s book sculptures resemble wilted plants or exotic sea vegetation more than manmade vestiges of civilization. By deliberately destroying old volumes — whether through water, disembowelment, or total reshaping — she illustrates the fragility of these objects by reducing them to fossil-like skeletons.

Paul Octavious

Commenting on the seeming randomness of stacked books, Paul Octavious crafts precise, color-coordinated book sculptures, which he then captures with a sharp photographic lens. The playful designs spell out letters, numbers, words, and sometimes shapes that otherwise would seem too precarious to stand on their own.